GIS for everyone: new book aims to spread use of open source software for hydrological applications

Written by Rachelle Dwarka, on 18 May 2022

The water sector uses a lot of commercial software with expensive licenses for hydrological models and analysis of spatial data, with professionals – and students - often unaware that open source software offers viable alternatives. Hans van der Kwast, author of a book titled QGIS for Hydrological Applications, the second edition of which was recently published, aims to change this.

QGIS, the software highlighted in the book, is a popular open source software package that enables users to use geographic information systems (GIS), which allow geographic information to be stored, managed, edited, analyzed, integrated and presented. Water experts use GIS to analyse satellite images, map river basins and process data for use in models. GIS is also used in many other fields, for example navigation systems and mobile apps with maps and GPS locations.

Commercial GIS software dominates

‘’Most of the students who have already come into contact with GIS have worked with licensed software, often from the tech company ESRI, which dominates the field. Dutch universities and colleges spend significant amounts on ESRI licenses. Students often receive a free campus license for use during their studies, meaning that they are in a way locked into commercial software at an early stage of their careers,” said Hans van der Kwast, Senior Lecturer in GIS and Spatial Data Management at IHE Delft. “As a result, the water sector’s use of open source alternatives for GIS is minimal.’’

But in many countries, commercial licenses are out of reach due to their high cost. Hans van der Kwast uses open source software in his teaching, projects, video tutorials and books to demonstrate that such software often offers the same possibilities as commercial options.

Open source GIS

The source code for open source software is freely available for anyone to evaluate and improve. Several open source software packages, including QGIS, are supported by active developer communities with members around the world. Open source software often aims to enable links with other products, such as hydrological models. 

The book QGIS for Hydrological Applications features case studies that guide readers through the functionalities of QGIS. Exercises involving open data guide readers through the steps needed to prepare data for use. The new edition includes several new features, such as shorter workflows and a new plugin for stream and catchment delineation, developed by Hans van der Kwast.

‘’With access to open data and open source software, water experts can work worldwide to contribute to solutions to water problems,’’ Hans van der Kwast said.

More information, including an e-book version, can be found on the publisher website, Locate Press. Book buyers contribute to a Book Fund that supports IHE Delft students’ participation in hackathons and events focused on open source GIS software.

Meet the authors

Hans van der Kwast and co-author Kurt Menke, a GIS open source software specialist, will launch the second edition of QGIS for Hydrological Applications live on YouTube  on 19 May at 18:00 UTC(20:00 CEST). Also taking part are the book’s publisher, Tyler Mitchell from Locate Press, and Natalia Cardenas Nino and Celine Safi, two IHE Delft alumni who are supported by the Book Fund.

Learn more

IHE Delft offers free GIS  OpenCourseWare. The Institute also offers a short course from 19 to 23 September 2022,  targeting water and environment professionals, especially those involved in using simulation models for water management, and GIS analysts. Participants will learn how to find open access GIS data and efficient ways to  process  data for  hydrological applications using QGIS and its plugins. All participants will receive the book and those who complete the course successfully will receive an official QGIS certificate.

Additional reading

Open source mapping tools prepare new generation of water managers – an October 2019 blog by Hans van der Kwast. 

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